Mercedes Castillo

September 27, 2023

MSBS Class 2023
Utah Campus

Where is your hometown?
Huntington Park

Undergraduate studies:
B.S. in Biological Sciences

What clubs and activities are you currently involved with?
American Woman’s Medical Association, Latinx Club, Neuropsych Club

Tell us a bit about yourself.
Prior to moving out to Ivins, or “Mars” as some of us have lovingly dubbed it due to the vibrant coat of red sand around Rocky Vista University’s Utah campus, I’d lived in Southern California the entirety of my life. I got my Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences at the University of California Riverside. While there, I got the opportunity to attend free clinics situated in Tecate, Mexico, organized by a club called “Flying Samaritans”. I functioned as a volunteer Spanish-English translator for our volunteer physicians to communicate with their patients and vice versa. Prior to UCR, I attended community college in East Los Angeles where I also volunteered at the LAC+USC Hospital emergency department. I’ve wanted to be a physician for a long time, and my experiences both in Tecate, and in East L.A. cemented my hope to one day serve the underserved, especially belonging to an underrepresented minority in medicine.

What initially brought you to RVU? Why did you decide to pursue this degree?
I finished and received my Bachelor’s of Science during COVID; after that, I had to do some reevaluating. I knew I still wanted to be a doctor but I also knew that I needed to explore the options I had and what I could do to bolster my GPA. I looked into master’s degrees and that’s when I found out about MSBS. I got the opportunity to meet with Dr.Brooks and Holly Bagot, who I spoke with at length over Zoom and learned more about the program. When I applied and got in, I was ecstatic- no other campus made me feel as welcomed or as wanted as RVU. In my time here, I’ve learned what study approaches work best for me, and have done a lot of adjusting. I don’t think there’s a program out there that would prepare a person for the rigors of medical school -or provide the support to lead their students to success- as well as this one.

What do you enjoy doing when not at RVU (family life, interests and hobbies)?
I love reading books! My favorite author right now is Ali Hazelwood– she’s a real life neuroscience PhD that’s written peer-reviewed articles on brain science but has recently -and very successfully- tried her hand at writing romance novels where her main characters are always working somewhere in STEM. I have my dog Lola living with me out here, and she’s very hyper. I try to take her on walks 3-4 times a day for both our sakes! I love BTS (the kpop group) and listening to whatever new music Spotify decides I’ll probably like. I also have a PS4 which I don’t get to use often, but my favorite games include the Last of Us franchise, and Detroit: Become Human.

What is an interesting or little known fact about you:
I graduated high school at 16! It’s little known because I just forget that it happened. From a young age, I was fixated on medicine (and how long of an academic path it would be) and when the opportunity presented itself to take the CHSPE and conclude high school after sophomore year, I took it and ran with it. After that, I went to community college before transferring to UCR where I got my bachelor’s degree… and now I’m at Rocky Vista University!

What is the best piece of advice you have been given by a professor or student while at RVU?
“No one cares when you learned to tie your shoes” is probably a piece of advice that had made its rounds every few weeks when imposter syndrome is hitting the hardest. Dr.Brooks is the one who’s told me this and the gist of it is that regardless of how long it takes you to get to where you want to be, you WILL get there. Once you’re a doctor or whatever else you aspire to be, no one will be asking how long it took.

What are your medical interests?
I’ve always been interested in endocrinology. I was diagnosed with T1 Diabetes a few years ago, and have to see an endocrinologist regularly to discuss treatment regimens. I also like psychiatry and neurology quite a lot. I assume my medical interests might change over time, especially the more I get to learn about the human body.

What is a favorite memory you have from being in RVU?
One of my favorite memories at RVU has been standing in a circle with friends outside of the school after each Block exam. We’re all joking and venting and a little scared of what results we’ll see when grades get released. We’re also relieved that it’s over and we’re figuring out how to celebrate. It sounds a bit mundane but being in this program has allowed me to really bond with my peers and I’ve never had that experience before. It’s a tight-knit community and we’re all working together and lifting each other up; the mutual support is real.

What advice do you have for prospective students?
This program is going to be one of the hardest things you’ve done up until now; you’ll struggle and there’s a learning curve to finding what works for you in terms of studying. Every one has their own approach and it might take a while to find yours. If your first exam grade isn’t what you wanted, find out what other people are doing and adjust. No one is walking in knowing everything- so don’t be hard on yourself if you have a hard time. Get comfortable asking for help, going to office hours, and putting in the extra time to learn that one thing that everyone “seems” to get. You have to be bad at something before you can get really good at it.